OpEd

The Next 100 Years (2)

George Friedman predicted fifteen years ago with almost complete accuracy the first and second Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is predictions like this that have cemented his status as one of the key modern geopolitical thinkers

"Until approximately 2020, Russia's main concern will be the rise of the Russian state and the restoration of Russian power in the region... The low-intensity global confrontation will begin in 2015 and intensify in 2020." George Friedman, January 2009, the book "The next 100 years".

***

George Friedman predicted fifteen years ago with almost complete accuracy the first and second Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is predictions like this that have cemented his status as one of the key modern geopolitical thinkers. 

In the previous column I covered the key reasons that motivated Friedman to conclude that the US will be the undisputed global power in the next 100 years. In today's column we will look at what will be the future conflicts for which the world must prepare. Friedman sees five "tipping points": (1) the Pacific, (2) Russia, (3) Europe, (4) Turkey, and (5) Mexico.
Let's start with the Pacific. The Pacific is the region of the world with the greatest economic growth in modern human history. This growth is led by China and Japan. However, this economic growth is out of balance with their military capabilities. Both of these countries are completely dependent on free access to oceanic corridors, which are controlled by US naval forces. This situation puts China and Japan in an extremely vulnerable position. The eventual rejection by the US of China's or Japan's access to the oceans would be devastating for both countries. And it's precisely situations like these that prompted Japan to attack the US at Pearl Harbor during World War II. The attack came as a direct result of the US cutting off Japanese supplies. Today, Japan is allied with the US, but China is not. In other words, China understands that it cannot remain so dependent on the goodwill of the US naval forces. If it wants to create predictable security for its future, China is doomed to develop military capabilities that will allow it free and independent navigation in the Pacific. This will put it on a direct collision course with US national interests. And this is why the Pacific is structurally doomed to be one of the crises of the future. 

The second crisis region is Russia. Russia has never found peace with Europe. The Napoleonic Wars, two world wars and the Cold War, all of which have had Russia's relationship with Europe at its epicenter. A united Russia has always posed a threat to Europe, just as a united Europe has posed a threat to Russia. These are structural geopolitical dynamics against which the personalities of the time have very little room to maneuver. To understand Russia we must understand its weakness. Its weakness is the limits. Russia is completely exposed to invasion on its western flank. This is the corridor that Napoleon and Hitler used to invade Russia. So the western borders of Russia are an open invitation to potential invaders. In this sense, Russia's only possible defense is the depth of its western borders. The farther potential invaders have to travel to reach Moscow, the more protected Russia feels. And this Russian strategy has passed the test of time. In both Napoleon's and Hitler's cases, the depth of the Russian frontiers, combined with the harsh climate, saved Russia. In this context, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Western powers have moved rapidly to expand their sphere of influence in the former countries of the former BSSR. Thus, the Baltic countries were integrated into the EU and NATO, while the Caucasus and the "stans" advanced relations with the USA. As a result of western expansion, Russian borders have degraded today to their lowest historical level. In 1989, St. Petersburg was 1600 km away from NATO troops. Today it is 160 km. In 1989, Moscow was 2500 km away from NATO troops. Today it is 500 km. This is why Russia is structurally doomed to repel the further expansion of Western powers. Consequently, Russia will push back in three directions. The first direction is what we see today in Ukraine. The second direction will be in the Caucasus and the third direction will be in Central Asia or the "stans" of the USSR. 

The third region of the crisis will be Europe. Peace, stability, prosperity - all this we see today in the European Union is an anomaly in the sense of European history. For the vast majority of history, the normality of the European land has been war, tragedy and destruction. Today the question before Europe is whether Europe has entered its permanent peace, or the peace of the last 70 years is only a momentary truce? 
The European Union is a complex political enterprise which has so far managed to control nationalist passions. But those lusts are not gone. They live deep in European societies and are still an integral part of the DNA of European sovereign states. These desires are awakened from their archaic slumber whenever a crisis erupts and core national interests are affected. Look today how quickly France is ready to protect its farmers at the expense of other member countries. Remember how quickly some member states restored their national borders at the time of the migration crisis, thus violating every principle of cooperation within the European Union. With the advent of right-wing political options in various European countries, such nationalist desires will only be strained even more. We recently learned that the far-right German party, which aims to take power in Germany - the Alternative for Germany - has participated in meetings aimed at reviving Nazi ideas. In other words, beneath the surface of European peace and prosperity there still lives a dormant volcano of wars and tragedies, which can be activated very quickly.

The fourth crisis region is Turkey. Not that Turkey will be the place of the crisis, but it will be its source. Of all the Muslim countries, Turkey is the only one that has the capacity and perspective to become a regional power that can challenge American interests. In modern history, no Muslim country has managed to become a regional power. Indonesia, as the largest Muslim country, does not have the basic capacity for this. Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country and a nuclear power, but its structural lack of internal cohesion and its border with China and India will never allow it to become a regional power. Thus, other remaining candidates are Egypt, Turkey and Iran. Egypt is the largest country with 80 million inhabitants, Turkey has 71 million and Iran 65 million. Due to internal structural challenges, Egypt will never succeed in becoming a regional power. This leaves Turkey and Iran as the only two candidates for regional leadership among Muslim countries. Although Iran has aggressive behavior, its behavior is a reflection of weakness. In defense of the Iranian regime against the US, Sunni Muslims, and the anti-Iranian Arab coalition, Iran is doomed to continue to be aggressive. This immediate Iranian preoccupation with its own short-term security does not allow it to allocate necessary structural resources for long-term Iranian growth that will advance it to regional power. Thus, Turkey remains the only serious candidate for the domination of the Muslim world. Turkey is the most developed country in the region and is strategically positioned between Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Turkey's role in managing the war in Ukraine has revealed Turkey's geopolitical potential. And although today Turkey and the US are allies, history is filled with cases where former allies have turned into sworn enemies. Turkey's continued economic growth, competition for precious global resources, Turkey's transformation into a global champion of Muslim causes, as well as the solidification of its regional position will be a dangerous geopolitical cocktail that will put Turkey on a collision course with US national interests.

And the fifth crisis region will be Mexico. Traditionally, conflicts arise over borders. Borders are usually regions characterized by complex histories, ethnic emotions and political tensions. The border between Mexico and the US is no different. The eventual disputes about borders are not resolved on the basis of moral parameters, but on the parameters of military force and political calculations. This is how the border between Mexico and the USA was established in the 100th century, when Mexico lost the war and the USA established today's border. But Mexico will not be a weak country forever. It is now the fourteenth largest economy in the world. If you have a hard time imagining a strong Mexico in the next 1950 years, just imagine the rise of Germany and Japan from 1970 to where these two countries are today. Or imagine China in XNUMX and China today. So the economic and military empowerment of Mexico is a real option, and one that would put it on a direct collision course with key US national interests.

***

Whether these predictions of Friedman will be realized, we do not know. I who write these lines and you who read them will not be alive to prove their accuracy 100 years from now. But beyond their accuracy, Friedman's analysis offers us a framework for viewing key global dynamics that are dictated by geopolitical structural factors and that will have to be managed by the leaders of the time. Kosovo and the Balkans will be just a drop of water in the sea, in the background of the XXI century. This is also the reason why looking at these dynamics helps us to understand our place in the world, so that we can try to navigate the turbulent times that will characterize the next 100 years.